Written By

Raphael Selby, David Wyllie, John Brown

15.3.2021 Thinking

Our Arts and Culture group recently revisited a regular theme of the COG – Value – but this time in the context of added value through specific expertise that we can bring to projects, and how to get recognition of this input as a separate and distinct service beyond a normal scope.

We shared three aspects of our projects.

The first was the separate signage commissions which we have been undertaking for our larger cultural projects. As the building designers we are well placed to both understand the client’s operation (such as staffing levels) and understand the design intent of how people will flow around a building. Whilst we seek to make that movement as intuitive as possible, such as the new foyer extension at the Theatre Royal, there is inevitably a need for signage to provide more exhaustive information for building users. We aim to provide a holistic vision for building design and signage so that the two work harmoniously. We shared recent work at Birmingham Symphony Hall which has yet to open to the public – always the acid test!

The second aspect of our work we discussed was more specialist exhibition design, where we work alongside curators and exhibition designers on collection display. Again this is something we have undertaken on a range of projects in the past, such as at National Trust for Scotland and National Museums Scotland, National Museum of Rural Life. We shared our work on the display cases for the Great Tapestry of Scotland in our presentation, the display of which is fundamental to our design approach to the entire building. As the project approaches completion it is exciting to see how the architecture and display sit harmoniously together.

The third subject of discussion was around the demarcation of design responsibility with and between the specialists with whom we work, particularly in relation to performing arts spaces. We have worked closely with venue and acoustic consultants on a number of projects, to shape the architecture of the space, its ambiance and the atmosphere of the dedicated performance spaces. These spaces are technically very complex and if designed poorly can radically affect a client’s future operation and the ability to generate revenue. Specialist input is therefore always advised, however, as our experience in this sector increases, clients expectations on the extent of our advice beyond that of a normal service also stretches – which must be recognised. In the technical design phase of a project, we must act as both ‘composer’ and ‘conductor’ – co-ordinating the input of the other design disciplines and, as appropriate, specialist suppliers into a cohesive whole, which does not diminish the original architectural ambitions for the space.

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Civic Trust Awards 2021